Reuban Abati defends his boss, says the president is not despot.
President Goodluck Jonathan and the Action Congress of Nigeria engaged each other in fierce broadsides on Sunday after the ACN branded the president a “despot” who is gradually assuming the notoriety of ex-head of state, Sani Abacha.
The said in a statement by its spokesperson, Lai Mohamed, that Mr. Jonathan has demonstrated his intolerance for dissenting opinion, with the recent clampdown on the media and the handling of his feud with Rivers state governor, Rotimi Amaechi.
The party dismissed the administration’s theme of “Transformation Agenda” as merely indicative of nothing but transformation “from a democratically-elected President to an Emperor, a despot”.
It accused the president of compromising national institutions to get at a political enemy, specifically citing the role being played by aviation authorities, the EFCC and the police, in the presidency’s clash with Mr. Amaechi.
“Our main concern is the fact that the party’s (PDP) internal crisis is overheating the polity and threatening the country’s hard-won democracy,” the party said.
“After the theatrics of the aviation agencies and their parent ministry, the EFCC has suddenly realized that the cost of the Rivers State’s plane was inflated by US$10 million while the police have sacked the Secretariat of Obio-Akpro local government in Rivers. The question is: Who gave the orders for the police to sack the secretariat, and in the process take sides with the President in the political disagreement with the Governor?
”Which are the other national institutions that will be drafted into this scorched-earth campaign against a perceived non-conformist party member? If the President can go to this length against his own party man, what will he do against the opposition? Why is it that a democratically-elected President cannot be challenged by anyone, whether or not he is a member of his party?” the party queried.
The ACN cited last week’s report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, which listed Nigeria on the lowest rungs of countries where media rights are violated, as a testimony to the worsening record of the administration on press freedom.
“Also, the ferocity with which the Jonathan administration went after a former minister of education, Oby Ezekwesili, for claiming that President Jonathan frittered away the 67 billion dollars in foreign reserves which she said President Olusegun Obasanjo left behind in 2007; and the fate that befell NEMA spokesman Yushau Shuaib for daring to criticize the lopsided appointments in parastatals under the Ministry of Finance, are glaring actions of an administration that is bent on stifling Freedom of Expression,” the party said.
No rift with Amaechi
The presidency hit back angrily, labeling the ACN as the “real abode of budding despots” in a statement issued by spokesperson, Reuben Abati.
The statement said the claims by ACN’s spokesperson, Lai Mohammed were wrong, and accused Mr. Mohammed of indulging in “the politics of abuse”.
“Does Lai Mohammed know the meaning of the word, despotism, or is he just throwing the word around for onomatopoetic effect?”
Mr. Abati said the ACN are “in fact beneficiaries of the openness and freedom that this administration promotes. The paradox is that those who do not allow freedom and equality in their own party or backyard, those who are well known as self-proclaimed Godfathers and closet despots, are the same ones who are now quick to accuse others of despotism,” he said.
The ACN, he added, should start by removing the log in its eyes. “President Jonathan is not a despot. ACN is the real abode of budding despots in Nigeria,” Mr. Abati said.
He denied the ACN’s allegation that there is a row between the Rivers State governor, Mr. Amaechi and the president.
“Governor Amaechi has publicly stated that this particular allegation is a piece of fiction created by certain persons and the media. We insist that President Jonathan is not engaged in any quarrel or dispute with Governor Amaechi,” he said. “And it is wrong to use the matter of the aircraft that was grounded by the aviation authorities to concoct stories of persecution.”
Mr. Abati said the ACN claims that there is “a growing propensity to stifle the freedom of expression and freedom of the press.” According to him, the report by the Committee to Protect Journalists is not a comment on government-media relations in Nigeria.
“This administration sees the media as a strategic partner in the business of nation-building. The government not only enjoys a robust relationship with the media, it continues to encourage the freedom of expression and of the press.”